Recognizing Our Value

We live in a climate of cost reductions and the maximizing of resources. The reality is that cutting excess fat in the budget can also cut muscle tissue. A common occurrence is the outsourcing of hospital departments, such as biomedical engineering. Outsourcing leaves many of us biomeds wondering about our perceived value and our actual value to the leadership we serve. It is often difficult to see any satisfaction for our efforts, especially when our leadership frequently changes or is too busy to develop an understanding of us and recognize what we do. Remember the days when biomedical engineering was a stable department with supervisors and technicians who were long-term employees? Few biomed departments are like that now. Higher turnover of staff and supervisors has changed the stable and relatively peaceful environment into a tense and hectic one.

Why the high turnover? Why the frustration that so many of us feel? It is because of our workload—or should I say work overload—as we are given more work without any more help. Remember the days when all that management needed to do was to write up a justification, submit it to the higher-ups, and it would usually be approved? Then, someone would be hired, and we would have the help we needed. Those days seem to be long gone. Now, it seems that hiring another person is equivalent to winning the lottery without buying a ticket. Not gonna happen! All we can do is keep the people we have, at best.

So, where does this leave biomedical technicians? Do you know how frustrating it is to constantly hear that we must do more with less? It is especially frustrating when so many of our tasks involve fixing devices that are peripheral to our intended mission, like television sets or equipment that is labeled “broken,” “does not work,” or “failure.” With no specified problem, each unit has to be fully tested.

A favorite reduction, clerical help, adds all the paperwork involved with our preventive maintenance (PM), servicing, new-equipment acceptance, and purchasing of parts and supplies to our workload. Most frustrating is the obvious cost difference between that of a part-time data entry person and our cost per hour for doing such things as paperwork and filing. Management often justifies using us as clerical help, even though we cost so much more than the data-entry person, because another person would require additional space, and most biomedical shops are last on the list for extra room.

This all inhibits some of our most cost-efficient tactics:
• Reducing the use of vendors for service by increasing
in-house repairs;
• Increasing successful outcomes by maximizing equip- ment user proficiency; and
• Performing comprehensive PM on our equipment to minimize downtime and enhance safety.

The implementation of even one of these strategies could improve our outcomes, enhance our image, and realize direct cost savings. Indirect savings can also occur through lawsuit prevention by keeping the equipment functioning at optimum performance, and through customer-satisfaction enhancement by treating our patients the same way that we would like to be treated if we were in their place. When we achieve real cost savings, you would think that some small fraction of the money saved could be used to enhance our department in some way—but this is rare.

Ah, but there may still be some hope. Perhaps when managers see enough possibilities inherent in effective biomedical programs—especially with radiology, where the cost savings can quickly grow large—change can happen. The potential savings in radiology alone, even with a partial or first-look repair program, can go a long way toward paying for the cost of an entire biomedical engineering department’s operations. Additional savings are relatively easy to achieve in the laboratory and surgery/recovery areas.

An often-overlooked area of potential cost savings involves our participation and influence in the area of purchasing. Reliable equipment can drastically reduce maintenance costs over the equipment’s post-warranty life. All of us can probably cite instances when purchasing equipment with low maintenance costs saved a lot of money for the corporation. At the very least, our input into the purchasing process can result in cost reductions for training and for repair parts.

 All of these savings can only be realized if our staffing levels are high enough so that we have the time to tackle the extra workload. Management could justify the additional expense, although that is definitely an uphill fight these days. All it would take is for management to see our value. Now, how do we get them to do that? 24×7

George Williamson, CBET, is a clinical engineering technician at Advocate Health Care, Oak Brook, Ill.

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